The Nationals announced they selected the veteran reliever contract Tyler Clippard. To make room for him on the list, closer Tanner Rainey was placed on the 60-day injured list with an ulnar collateral ligament sprain.
Rainey’s news is as surprising as it is unfortunate. He wasn’t even on the injured list, and there was no indication that an injury of this serious nature was being investigated. The UCL is the ligament that is repaired by Tommy John surgery. Although the Nats have not announced that Rainey will undergo surgery or any timeline for his absence, the fact that he was immediately placed on the 60-day IL suggests they expect him be out of action for the next two months at a minimum.
The 29-year-old was apparently in the middle of a breakout season, pitching 30 innings with a 3.30 ERA, 28.1% strikeout rate, 10.2% walk rate and a ground ball rate of 31.6%. He had climbed the club’s reliever rankings to become the closest, making three saves last year and 12 here in 2022.
The Nationals are now almost a year after dismantling the roster they started at last year’s deadline. As such, they are enduring a miserable campaign that currently has them 30-59, tied with Oakland for the majors’ worst record. Rainey was one of the few bright spots of the year, but also stood out as a potential trade chip. He still has three years in control of the club after this one, but as a relief pitcher on a bad team, there was still a chance he could be moved, which won’t happen now.
Rainey qualified for officiating for the first time last winter as a Super Two player and is playing this season on a salary of $860,000, slightly above the league minimum of $700,000. He should be in line for a raise, despite this injury setback, based on his work in the early months of the season. If he does need surgery and will miss the majority of the 2023 campaign, the Nationals may not offer him a contract. Although they could also keep it given that it would come with two more seasons of control beyond that.
As for Clippard, 37, this will be his 16th season in MLB, once he enters a game. He should be a familiar face to Washington fans as he pitched for the club from 2008 to 2014, in addition to spending time with the Yankees, A’s, Mets, Diamondbacks, White Sox, Astros, Cleveland, Blue Jays and Twins. Signed to a minor league deal this offseason, he pitched 36 1/3 innings this year in Triple-A with a 2.48 ERA, 32.2 percent strikeout rate, walk rate of 11.2% and a ground ball rate of 30.1%. He should provide the club with a veteran presence and could be a trade candidate if he pitches well in the majors.